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Little things in the suitcase

Sitting in Malaysia, it’s difficult to articulate to anyone what it feels like to have been out of your home country for two months.

On the one hand, there are the big things associated with moving to a new land – the culture shock, the economic system and how you have to adjust to the way life is ordered in that place. These are the big things that I planned for prior to moving and travelling.

Then there are the little things.

In the back of my mind I have had the lyrics of U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind on repeat, and in particular, the words of the song Walk On.

“You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been,  A place that has to be believed to be seen…”

Let’s start with the first line.

You go travelling and you pack a suitcase – duh. For me, the reference here is metaphorical. I have learned so much about my family by travelling with them to somewhere out of their comfort zone, because we’ve brought with us everything that’s in our “suitcase”.

My kids have a ton of interesting things in their suitcases. I marvel at what made it across the ocean on many levels – both physical items and non-physical. It’s the latter that’s interesting.

They each have a wicked sense of humour, no shortage of ideas or words, and an ability to articulate how they are feeling. As parents, Tammy and I never have to guess with any of them how they are. It also turns out that they’re quite resourceful and have been “gifted” an ability to adjust and adapt quite quickly, each in their own way.

I’ve realised that my own ability in that department is also fairly adept, and I’m actually pleasantly surprised that here in my 40s I’ve been able to learn new tricks… I mean, I thought I was an old dog!

There are things missing from my suitcase, though. Conversations with friends; familiar types of food; certain types of music I don’t hear anymore; birds I’m used to (strange, but I miss them); hearing Bible verses; the local coffee shops…

It’s in those moments that we learn about where we’re at, by seeing what’s in our suitcase and what’s not in our suitcase. And it’s good to take stock of we’re what we’re carrying and why – which brings me to the second line: “A place that has to be believed to be seen…”

Growing up, my blueprint or narrative I had developed was pretty clear: I knew what I wanted to do, where I wanted to live and who I wanted to be. I always thought I’d live in South Africa. It was just all that was marked out for me when I was young. However, as I’ve grown, and as I’ve read, a world of interesting narratives has opened up to me. The one I had drafted for myself was pretty cool, I thought. But I’ve discovered alternatives that could be written. Narratives that are outside of my control and roadmaps which journey to who-knows-where, and it’s intriguing.

To believe interesting alternatives are possible, is to see myself actually here – in Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia – of all places.

It’s been two months since I left the shores of South Africa. There are many things I miss from my suitcase. I miss my dog, who used to come with me when I went for a run. I miss playing music at the local restaurants. I miss having a braai, with lots of good South African beef and chakka lakka sauce. I miss the ocean, and swimming in the swell.   But I love this new adventure I am on, and the things I am seeing. I have loved meeting new young people and seeing how hard they work. I love Malaysia, and seeing flags everywhere as the country proudly demonstrates its colours. I enjoy all the spices, and cycling with new friends. I enjoy eating crispy pork and rice for breakfast, with the sweetest cup of kopi (coffee) on the planet – an espresso shot with condensed milk.

Indeed, I feel happy two months into this new adventure with what I brought in my suitcase, and discovering places both outside of me and inside of me that I didn’t think possible.

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